Switzerland Snow and Ski

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Switzerland Snow and Ski
Whether it’s a relaxed day on the slopes followed by a lengthy après ski or an action-packed adventure across challenging terrain, Switzerland has it all. Among immaculate slopes and 140 glaciers are resorts which tip the scale on elegance.
By Simon Willis, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Andreas Gerth/Switzerland Tourism
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    The Magnificent Matterhorn
    As the Colosseum is to Rome or the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, so is the Matterhorn to Switzerland. Located in Zermatt, this 14,690-meter wonder is steeped in history and intrigue. Every year, visitors flock to see the morning sunlight beam off its four faces, ski in neighboring mountains, or even attempt to climb the beast. The Matterhorn, however, is not for the faint of heart, and has claimed the lives of more than 500 people since it was first scaled in 1865. The mountain is so famous it has even been recreated at Disneyland, in California, as a roller coaster/bobsled ride.
    Photo courtesy of Andreas Gerth/Switzerland Tourism
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    Incredible Glaciers
    These vast wildernesses of natural ice formations continue to beguile visitors every year. While the best glacial skiing is at car-free Saas-Fee resort or Engelberg—whose revolving cable car was a world’s first—you can also have an unforgettable experience at Glacier 3000 in Les Diablerets, Vaud. The less daring take a snow cat or dog-led sleigh across the plateau, while others hike to the edge of the precipices, looking down on the rest of the world. The glacier is also home to the world’s highest roller coaster. The one-seater toboggan hurtles around corners and dips drastically, imitating the sensation of free-falling across the icy surface at bone-shaking high speed.
    Photo courtesy of Christof Sonderegger/Switzerland Tourism
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    Embrace the Apr├Ęs-Ski
    A few resorts come highly recommended when it's time to kick off your ski boots and get ready for a night on the town. Verbier has been attracting darlings of the party scene for years, and has recently added snowboarders to its exclusive clientele. Etoile Rouge Supper Club treats diners to fabulous dishes before turning into the town's hippest cocktail night spot. After forty years in business, Italian-owned and celebrity-frequented Farm Club remains one of the most popular—and expensive—clubs. Meanwhile Laax, a resort an hour south of Zürich, has a funky bar vibe that manifests on the weekend, when Riders Palace Hotel transforms into a nightclub. Neighboring resort, Films, is easily accessible and has more relaxing bars, such as Legna.
    Photo courtesy of Christof Sonderegger/Switzerland Tourism
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    Float Down Fresh Powder
    Every serious skier dreams about gliding down virgin powder snow and unblemished mountains, and depending on snow fall, Switzerland has ample opportunity for just that. Mürren is blessed with hike-friendly mountains and powder-packed bowls that maintain fresh snow days after a big fall. A cable car up to Schilthorn’s peak opens up various opportunities for challenging off-piste skiing, although a guide is recommended. Resorts at Verbier and Grindelwald are among the most popular for off-piste skiing. Both spots offer expert guides on powder skiing, such as Verbier’s Powder and Freeride camps, or PowderZone—a three-day powder skiing course exclusive to Grindelwald.
    Photo courtesy of Christian Perret/Switzerland Tourism
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    Glitzy Resorts
    Switzerland fulfills the demands of wealthy vacationers with a collection of swanky resorts. St. Moritz still sports the crown for glitz and glamour with its flamboyant array of five-star hotels, designer shops, and luxe restaurants. Events and shows keep its celebrity and royal visitors entertained, including a modern-day horse chariot race known as skijoring, and ice cricket played on the frozen lake. In quaint Gstaad, fine dining has attracted the rich and famous since the early 60s. In addition to its astonishing selection of gourmet restaurants, three of which—Chesery, Sommet, and Leonard's—hold Michelin stars, is the ultra-exclusive, membership-only Eagle Club in Wasserngrat, said to serve the world's most expensive lunch.
    Photo courtesy of Benno Thoma/Switzerland Tourism
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    World-Class Freestyle Facilities
    For jumps, bumps, 360s, and flips, young freestylers head to one of Switzerland’s biggest piste areas, Laax. This five-valley resort has undergone a radical facelift and is now a labyrinth of facilities for freestylers of all levels. Included are four terrain parks, a super-pipe, a mini-pipe, freestyle slopes, and Europe’s first indoor training center. Such is Laax’s reputation that famed freestyle festival Brits Snow and Music was hosted here in 2012. Davos is the highest city in Europe, at 1,560 meters, and has varied terrain. Among the tree runs, off-piste tracks, and open powder runs is a huge terrain park at Jakobshorn, as well as a half-pipe at Bolgen.
    Photo courtesy of Raphael Koch/Switzerland Tourism
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    Extreme Skiing
    While perfectly groomed corduroy pistes cater to elegant and steady skiers, the diverse extreme ski scene keeps adrenaline-junkies fueled. Gstaad is renowned for heli-skiing, and drop-offs at five different sites give experienced skiers the chance to wind their way down untouched, knee-deep powder in the solitude of the Swiss Alps. The most popular ski tour in the Alps is the Haute Route—a week-long endurance adventure beginning in Chamonix, France, and ending in Zermatt. The tour includes a 120-km traverse, 6,000 meters of ascent and descent on slopes and glaciers, and continual ski/mountaineering training sessions—such as avalanche search and rescue—with expert instructors.
    Photo courtesy of Christian Perret/Switzerland Tourism
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    Icy Adventures
    From serenely skating beside a loved one to hanging precariously in the depths of an eerie glacier, ice activities are a must for many visitors to Switzerland. Situated on the border with France in the Vaud Jura, Lac de Joux is one of the biggest natural ice rinks in Europe. Thousands flock there when the lake freezes. The misty evening air and mountains create a dreamlike scene reminiscent of a Roman Polanski movie. Bobsleigh rides are popular in St. Moritz, while Zermatt has rinks for curling. But for pure exhilaration, try ice climbing. Expert guides from a variety of tours, such as Outdoor Interlaken and SkiAscent, take groups up frozen waterfalls, glaciers, and ice-covered rock slabs in various locations in the Alps.
    Photo courtesy of Christof Sonderegger/Switzerland Tourism
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    The Longest Sled Run in Europe
    Switzerland boasts the longest sled run in Europe. Fifteen kilometers of immaculate slope from the Faulhorn summit run 2,680 meters down to the resort of Grindelwald, giving the "Big Pintenfritz" legendary status in the Alps. Grindelwald also offers night sledding on selected runs, with packages including dinner and a gondola ride. Zürich has its own brand of sledding—urban sledding down the tree-laden slopes of the Üetliberg Mountain. Accessible by train, this bumpy 1.9 mile run weaves down to Triemli Station, but watch out—you could come face to face with brave walkers ascending the hill in the opposite direction.
    Photo courtesy of Christian Perret/Switzerland Tourism
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    Igloo Villages
    A combination of the ultimate in solitude and Switzerland’s penchant for sophistication has visitors flocking to several igloo villages scattered around the Alps. Situated in Zermatt, Gstaad, Engelberg, and Davos, these specially built areas offer the chance to sleep, drink, and eat like an Eskimo—well, almost. Along with several carpeted and sheepskin-lined igloos, which are specially built to sleep couples, families, and small groups of friends, each destination offers activities such as snowshoeing, barbecues, and cheesy fondues. Each Iglu-Dorf site has Jacuzzis and bar areas where wine, beer, and champagne are supplied to overnight guests as well as those stopping for a breather on their mountain descent.
    Photo by Jen Murphy